Madrid, Spain’s en­er­getic cap­i­tal, of­fers easy ac­cess to countless trea­sures

Calgary Herald - - TRAVEL - DAR­REN OLEKSYN

Madrid, lo­cated in the heart of Spain, is a so­phis­ti­cated and en­er­getic city on a grand scale.

Its cul­tural trea­sures, delectable food scene, world­class shop­ping and walk­a­bil­ity make it an ideal travel des­ti­na­tion. Stay­ing in one of the many ac­com­mo­da­tions near Puerta del Sol or Plaza Mayor — the two pub­lic squares that serve as the city’s beat­ing heart — puts you a short walk from enough hotspots to fill a week.

If you want cul­ture, check out the city’s 60-plus mu­se­ums and gal­leries. At the top of the list is the Prado, one of Eu­rope’s best art mu­se­ums, which is burst­ing with mas­ter­pieces from greats such as Diego Ve­lazquez, Fran­cisco de Goya and El Greco.

The con­tem­po­rary Reina Sofia gallery, where Pablo Pi­casso’s spec­tac­u­lar and pow­er­ful Guer­nica de­picts the hor­ror of war, and the Thyssen-Borne­misza’s col­lec­tion fea­tur­ing le­gends such as Vin­cent Van Gogh, Claude Monet, Paul Cezanne and Rem­brandt van Rijn, com­plete the stun­ning tri­umvi­rate — and all three gal­leries are just a few min­utes apart and an easy walk from Puerta del Sol.

Not to be missed as well is the ex­trav­a­gant Royal Palace. With more than 3,000 rooms, the op­u­lent site, which is now used for state cer­e­monies, of­fers a glimpse of what royal life was like.

If shop­ping is on the agenda, take a stroll along the stun­ning Gran Via boule­vard to the Bar­rio de Sala­manca, known as the Golden Mile. Both areas of­fer loads of de­signer shops and unique bou­tiques.

All that shop­ping can make you hun­gry, which isn’t a prob­lem in a city where peo­ple tra­di­tion­ally eat five small meals a day. Culi­nary ad­ven­tures abound, from Miche­lin-starred restau­rants to his­toric eater­ies — in­clud­ing the world’s old­est restau­rant — tav­erns, bars and mar­kets. Be­cause small plates are a sta­ple, it’s easy to en­joy an amaz­ing ar­ray of tastes in one day.

The city hits an­other gear in the evening as cap­ti­vat­ing groups of fam­i­lies and friends head out for a walk and a meal. Find a ta­ble in a plaza, or­der some tapas and a glass of sherry, wine or hand­crafted ver­mouth, and sit back and watch. You never know what you will see. The nightlife goes into the wee hours, with clubs, the­atres and bars de­liv­er­ing ex­pan­sive en­ter­tain­ment op­tions.

If a bit of quiet re­flec­tion sounds ap­peal­ing, the city is also full of parks and green spa­ces, with the 125-hectare Re­tiro Park — a for­mer royal park — of­fer­ing a great break a short dis­tance from Puerta del Sol.

And with the Atocha train sta­tion right in the core, it’s easy to head out of town for a day-trip to one of the six UN­ESCO World Her­itage Sites or Ci­ties within an hour or so of the city.

For scenery on a grand scale, the jaw-drop­ping Villa of Aran­juez and San Lorenzo de El Es­co­rial, both royal sites cre­ated in the mid-1500s, of­fer tastes of an­other era. Spain’s golden age is on dis­play in Al­cala de Henares, the home of Don Quixote author Miguel de Cer­vantes.

Segovia, a key out­post of the Ro­man Empire, fea­tures an im­pres­sive 15-kilo­me­tre aque­duct from the sec­ond cen­tury and an his­toric old quar­ter. Both have been de­clared World Her­itage Sites.

On a larger scale, World Her­itage Ci­ties in­clude Avila, whose im­pres­sive walls sur­round his­toric churches and Re­nais­sance palaces, and Toledo, which dis­plays countless mon­u­ments from the three cul­tures — Chris­tians, Arabs and Jews — that lived to­gether peace­fully for cen­turies.

The cap­i­tal of Spain, a cap­i­tal of cul­ture — Madrid of­fers many de­lights.

For in­for­ma­tion, visit www.spain.info.

PHO­TOS: SUP­PLIED

The al­ways husy Sran Via, with its ex­pan­sive lay­out and grand huild­ings, is con­sid­ered Madrid’s Broad­way or Fifth Av­enue.

Plaza Mayor is one of the top puh­lic gath­er­ing spots in Madrid.

The 125-hectare Re­tiro Park is a great spot to re­lax.

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